KSU student to donate kidney over winter break

Frank Yonkof

The minute Leah Green found out her grandfather needed a kidney donor, she knew what she wanted to do. She would donate one of her kidneys.

When the sophomore early childhood education major first approached her mom with the idea in August, there was no guarantee she would be a match. Although Paul Thomson had been in the family for the past 18 years, he wasn’t her biological grandfather, which made the chances of a donation slim.

“It’s just hard for me to see any of my relatives in pain,” Leah said. “And when his cysts were breaking, he couldn’t even get out of bed and it broke my heart. I just love him so much. He’s like my second dad.”

Paul’s family has a history of kidney problems, which ruled out the possibility of a donation from a family member. Barring a transplant from someone else, Paul resigned to staying on dialysis if that’s what was meant to be, he says.

“My mother was on dialysis for 17 years, and I saw how it wore on her year after year,” said Paul, a math professor at Ohio University’s Zanesville campus. “And it kept her alive, but it took the life out of her too. Looking at a life like that for myself, it’s tough.”

By July, Paul’s condition had grown worse. His kidneys were filled with hundreds of cysts, some the size of an adult fist. Some began to hemorrhage, which caused a great deal of pain. With his kidneys swelling to 20 pounds and pushing on his other organs, his doctors decided it was time for a transplant.

At first, they kept the diagnosis quiet from the grandchildren, but Leah began to piece it together. She then talked to her Mom, who talked to her grandmother, who talked to her grandfather.

“If you can save someone’s life, wouldn’t you?” asked Leah, 19, who is a resident assistant in Fletcher Hall. “That’s how you have to think about it. You could save one more funeral and get another birthday, or 10 more birthdays.”

After committing to the donation, Leah had her blood tested (one of the craziest experiences, she explains, is walking into FedEx and shipping your own blood.) From that point on, the family waited.

“We didn’t know whether she would match or not,” said Shannon Green, Leah’s mother. “It would be a tough one to match.”

Leah’s family members explained she carried her sense of humor throughout the process. That’s her style, her grandmother contends.

“She promised God that if he would make her a match, she would wear matching socks and clean underwear on Sundays,” Bonnie said. “That’s her personality.”

Leah was sitting in her friend’s dorm room when she finally got the phone call saying the kidneys were a match. She screamed in the phone. Afterward, she promptly apologized to her caseworker on the other end of the line. It happens all the time, her caseworker told her.

“I was so scared it was going to be bad news,” Leah said. “I was like dancing and running. Me and my friends were like jumping up and down.”

‘It was probably meant to be’

Leah is the type of person who gives blood every three months and proudly owns two donor cards — one for Portage County and the other for New Concord. At one point, she drove a half hour to give blood.

“I just want to help people,” Leah said. “I would feel horrible if I wouldn’t.”

Paul will head into the hospital Dec. 8 to have both kidneys removed. Leah will follow on Dec. 14. The family hopes that will give her enough time to recover before heading back to school on Jan. 7 for her RA duties.

The doctors predict that Leah will be able to leave the hospital within three days and will have to take it easy at home for a few weeks. Paul, on the other hand, might have to stay in the hospital for a week to 10 days.

For Paul, his granddaughter’s kidney donation is a blessing.

“It was probably meant to be. I’m a very blessed person. I could never have asked her to do this,” Paul said. “I really don’t want to take one of her kidneys; although they tell me it’s quite all right. She can function very well on one kidney. Nobody wants to take your grandchild’s kidney.”

Hoping for a speedy recovery

When Leah returns to school in January, she won’t be able to carry her backpack. Doctors say she must use a backpack on wheels, which she is less than thrilled about. She cannot lift more than 10 pounds for the first few weeks, or her stitches might rip.

“No joke, when I come back, I’m not even worried about recovering,” Leah said. “It’s that stupid wheelie backpack. They’re embarrassing. I don’t want to carry it around campus. I don’t want people looking at me like I’m lazy. I swear I’d carry it.”

So Leah’s grandparents are making her a shirt that says ‘I’m giving my grandpa a kidney for Christmas, what did you get yours?’

At first, Leah may not be able to make her rounds as an RA at night, which she is expected to do every two hours from 8 p.m. to midnight. Her grandma may also help her hang nametags on each person’s door before the semester begins.

Her doctors are worried that Leah may develop diabetes, so they want her to lose 40 pounds after the surgery. She is looking forward to exercising more and eating healthier foods.

“It will be a life change instead of a diet,” Leah said. “That’s how I’m trying to see it as. Something that I need to work for.”

As the family moves closer to the surgery, the reality of the operation is starting to sink in.

“When it became more of a reality, I think it hit me a little more,” Shannon said. “I’m a little bit nervous, but I’m proud of her too. It’s kind of hard, everyone being family. You have to worry about both sides.”

Leah’s wake-up call came when she went to her one-day orientation, where a team of doctors and a caseworker explained the risks of the operations.

“Any surgery is going to be nerve-wracking, especially when you go to orientation and they’re like, ‘we have to be honest, we haven’t had anyone die yet, but it’s going to happen eventually,'” Leah said.

With the luck that I have, maybe I should write a will before I leave. I have a car and some college books in my name. That’s about it.”

The downside about the whole procedure is that Leah’s grandparents won’t be able to host the family’s Christmas gathering. Their house, which sits on 10 acres of land in the country, looks like the Griswold’s house in “Christmas Vacation” during the holidays, Bonnie said.

But for now, both Leah and Paul are looking forward to getting on with the transplant.

“My family is always laughing and having fun,” Leah said. “We’re all going to go and laugh and hold hands and pray before we go in (to surgery), and come out all together laughing and smiling and ready for Christmas.”

Contact Frank Yonkof at [email protected].